You’re living 5000 years ago. No television, no billboards, no noise. Clean water, fresh air, rich soil. Lots of space to sit, to walk, to breathe, to think, to be. The natural world continually enchants with new things for you to see, hear, smell, touch and taste. You take it in, sometimes not knowing what to make of the all the variety. The spaces between your thoughts are huge. In great mental quiet, you effortlessly observe your subtle, preverbal responses to it all. There is a free exchange of a subtle substance between you and the world (Yogis call this Prana). There is a connection, a relationship, a knowing each other. But when thoughts dominate your interior, this meeting stops, recedes into invisibility. As mind becomes busier and faster, there is a growing loss of an intimate connection. In its whirl of self-referent activity, the surface becomes isolated from the depths, from its source... it imagines itself to be a fundamentally autonomous entity. More noise... and you hurtle into the modern world, the modern self-experience, the modern self-concept... only a half-truth, an illusion.
Health, Ayurveda and Yoga
The word “health” comes from the same root as the word “whole”. In wholeness, there is a connection between the surface and the depth. The surface takes a proper measure of itself and finds that it is not the center, not the only thing seen in whole self-experience.
The deep beckons the surface to join with it: Yoga.
Care of the whole of what you are... the surface and the depth: Ayurveda.
Ayurveda creates strength of body, clarity of mind and tranquillity of spirit. Ayurveda forms the essential ground for Yoga and allied spiritual disciplines. Disciplines which seek to connect the surface to the depth, which must necessarily chop the surface down to size... cause its integration by removing its self-aggrandizement. In this, thought must take a back seat to other ways of holding one’s mind, other ways to know... to know Self and the world far beyond what they look like to the naive senses and to an untrained, conditioned, over-busy mind. This making whole is the task that Ayurveda and Yoga take on.
Ayurveda: The art & science of living
Ayurveda, translated as “the art and science of life and longevity” is a classical Indian approach to radical wholeness and the more mundane aspects of being healthy. Classical texts of Ayurveda go back 3000 years, though the oral tradition goes back some more. In these texts, there is a systematic approach and a detailed organization of the varieties of human suffering, or illnesses. Ailments of the body are deftly seen to be connected to the condition of one’s environment, one’s daily routine, diet, relationships, socio-economic circumstance and one’s mind... its content, its self-concept and its ability to respond to stressors. An Ayurvedic dictum: He creates health who knows how to turn the bitter into the sweet.
Beyond a precise understanding of what causes what, leads to what type of illness in which type of person, these classical texts list the single and compounded use of several hundred medicinal substances, describe an elaborate retinue of physical therapies and give recourse to the discipline of Yoga. A quote from the Charaka Samhita, a 2500 year old Ayurvedic text: “ To approach the bodily aspects of illness, we have many medicaments, both energic and physical, and to approach the mind with its agitation and unknowing, there need be fortitude, discipline, meditation and the gaining of spiritual knowledge... Yoga.”
Cure and Prevention
As well as offering help with chronic illness, Ayurveda also excels at disease prevention. It understands what health is, what it looks and feels like in minute detail... it knows what constitutes healthy function vis a vis digestive and intestinal patterns, urination patterns, menstrual cycles, the quality and texture of skin, nails and hair, the markings on the tongue, the predilections of the mind and much, much more. And in knowing this, it is possible to become aware of small shifts from healthy function, before there is suffering great enough that one might wish finally to fetch a doctor. There is sufficient sophistication in this knowledge that Ayurveda would pronounce 4 or 5 quantum leaps towards deteriorating health before modern technological medicine would have enough lab data to pronounce that a disease is at hand.
Individuality and Holism
Among other things, clinical Ayurveda offers two very important qualities. First, through its system of constitutional typing, it affords the entrance of individuality into the medical assessment. Ayurveda understands that to know what type of person has this particular disease is at least as important as knowing the particular disease that this person has... individuality.
Secondly, Ayurveda is holistic... it understands that things are connected. Though there may be several symptoms, they can and must be understood as signs of an underlying imbalance rather than as discrete entities to be treated in isolation from each other. Within Ayurveda there exist several elegant schemes of assessment which allow just this type of analysis so that the causes and the underlying imbalances are addressed which then lead to an abatement of related symptoms. Ayurveda understands that when several, seemingly disparate symptoms arise, they speak of a derangement of underlying physiologic functions. So it aims to correct diet, lifestyle and uses herbals and physical therapies which in fact address the physiologic shifts which have occurred and are leading to these symptoms. It is the antithesis of Ayurveda to simply give a prescription which aims to subdue symptoms.
Aligned with Yoga, Ayurveda is decidedly anti-reductionist and non-materialist and takes easily to the deepest mystical understandings of who and what we are, and thus sees illness as a dynamic of body, mind and spirit. Though in the modern world Ayurveda can be found packaged as a materialist approach to deal exclusively with physical ailments (which it is also very good) it really is a gateway to Spirit, to supreme Self-knowledge. It is self-care and SELF-care, both.